New chemotherapy drugs are constantly being developed in order to help rid the human body of cancerous tissue. Adding to the existing arsenal against this deadly disease, a new therapy that uses chemotherapy drugs is now taking a different approach to how these chemotherapy drugs are administered. People with cancer often suffer terrible side effects from chemotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, when chemotherapy drugs are injected they affect other parts of the body beyond just the cancerous tissues. This can cause sickness, pain, and fatigue so severe that it causes many patients to say, “the cure is worse than the disease.” In an attempt to kill cancerous tissue, while sparing the necessary and healthy tissue, researchers have turned to nanocell technology. Nanocells are small, synthetic cells that can be designed to a scientist’s specifications.
The nanocells used in one study were designed to look like a ball inside of another ball. This allows the cells to carry two different drugs. In the first (outside) layer, the ball holds a drug that cuts off the blood supply to the tumor. Inside the second layer is a chemotherapy drug. The result is that once the nanocell is in place, the first layer of the cell disintegrates, releasing the blood vessel-starving drug and cutting off oxygen to the tumor. The result of this is that the blood vessels around the tumor collapse. This leaves the tumor with the nanocell stuck inside it. Next, the chemotherapy drugs are released and they start to kill off the tumor.
The interesting thing about nanocells is that they are so small that they can pass through the blood vessels of tumors. However, tumors are also known to have larger blood vessels than healthy cells. So, the nanocell is designed to be too big to get into healthy blood vessels, while remaining tiny enough to fit into the tumorous blood vessels. So far, this technology has only been tested on mice, but the treatment has potential. In this study, the mice treated with nanocells lived twice as long as those given the current treatment for cancer.